Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2018 finalist, Amelia Tan! Amelia finished 5th grade this past school year. The story she submitted is called “Hidden Beauties.” One of our judges described Amelia’s story this way: “This is a really unique and special story. I love how Amelia’s characters share their thoughts and feelings.” Enjoy!
The leaves rustled a sound of home, the morning dew still clinging to the grass. The sun was rising from the far side of the farm, its rays dazzling the fields and blinding the animals taking their morning run. The sound of voices drifted out from the open window in the Caspers’ kitchen. Maya kneeled on a wooden stool watching her mother, Katherine, brew the morning coffee. Katherine was a young woman of 35 with laugh lines circling her eyes. She smiled as she watched Maya, her oldest daughter, draw the bread from the oven, setting it on the kitchen table to cool just as she taught her. Katherine lay strips of sizzling bacon and a spoonful of fried potatoes on five plates. Her youngest daughter, Heidi, came bounding down the stairs, corn cob doll in hand, just as her son Jack burst through the front door. Rosy-cheeked and panting, he let a cold gush of wind blow past him into the kitchen. His hands were black and sooty. Sauntering behind him came her husband, David Casper. David came in with a sadder face than his son.
David cleared his throat. “The new foal is quite scrawny,” he remarked. All eyes turned to him. “Not much I can do. The foal is unable to stand up.” Silence urged him to continue. “I hate to say it, but we might have to put the foal down.” It was too much for Katherine. Tears welled up in her eyes. She struggled to hold them back. It wasn’t fair for her family to see her cry if they weren’t crying. But the tears flowed out as David put a comforting arm around her.
Maya hated seeing her mother cry, so she offered, “I could take care of the foal. It wouldn’t be too hard.” A tired look cast over David’s face. Maya could see the doubt in her father’s eyes, but she wasn’t ready to give up.
“I’m afraid not, Maya. You would have to nurse her multiple times a day. And with school almost starting, I’m not sure you would have the time.”
“But I’m sure there’s a way I can save her!” Maya protested.
David looked at Katherine for help, but she was wiping her eyes with her handkerchief. Her handkerchief. The one he gave her when they got married. Her name was embroidered on it. He knew she was thinking about the foal. He remembered how much she always liked to name the foals. He sighed. “If you want to take care of the foal, you won’t be able to go to school in town like your siblings,” David explained.
“I’ll do it,” Maya said confidently.
* * *
Daisy, the foal, woke up with aching pains. She struggled to straighten her legs, but they stubbornly stayed bent. She squealed and tried again, but still they stayed bent. Her mother, Flora, came over and licked Daisy’s ears. Daisy nestled against her legs. Flora nudged Daisy’s legs with her nose, but they didn’t move. She snorted and lay down next to Daisy.
The barn door opened and Maya came in. Daisy could smell the scent of her dress, fresh from the wash, and Daisy lifted her head from under her mother’s nose. Daisy’s eyes met with Maya’s. Their eyes locked for some time, and then Maya left. Daisy could hear muffled voices outside of the barn. She could hear Maya’s voice and someone else’s that was lower. Then she watched Maya come back into the barn. Maya climbed the wooden ladder that led to the hayloft.
She could just make out Maya’s shape and something else that was in the shape of a square in the hayloft. Daisy nervously watched Maya wobble down the ladder with a wooden box. Daisy wondered what it was for. Flora whispered to Daisy that it was the exact same box that Maya and Katherine used last year to bring the hay to the market in town. Flora could see on Maya the same furrowed eyebrows that David had worn when she delivered Daisy.
Maya lugged the wooden box behind her, but there was no hay in the box. This time there were old quilts neatly folded almost as if it were expecting a visitor. Maya placed the box just outside of Daisy and Flora’s stall and lined it with a quilt. She set another quilt on top. She opened the stall door, and Daisy moved closer to her mother. Then she tried picking up Daisy.
She grunted but she couldn’t lift the tiny foal. She called to Jack who waltzed in with an evil grin on his face.
“Why should I help you? What did you ever do to help me? Besides, father’s right. The foal ain’t going anywhere any time soon.”
Tears welled up in Maya’s eyes. Since when did Jack become so harsh? She wiped a tear away with her hand. But she lost her grip on Daisy and she stumbled back to her mother. Seeing Maya cry made his heart melt. Sure she was a crybaby, but she was still his sister.
“Aw, come on. I’ll help you just this one time. But promise this will be the last?” Jack said in a softer tone. Maya nodded. Together Maya and Jack hoisted the little foal up, hovering over her box.
“Please no!” Daisy thought hard, “I want to stay with my mother! Besides, those quilts look itchy. I’d rather have a layer of hay.”
And then, as if she understood Daisy, Maya told Jack to put Daisy back in her stall.
* * *
“Maybe Daisy won’t like the quilts. After all, they are much different than her usual hay-filled stall,” Maya said. In the end, Maya decided to keep the quilts, but cover them with a layer of hay. “That way she will still have her hay, and the hardness of the box won’t dissatisfy her.”
Jack smirked but stayed silent. Maya ignored him. Then again, they picked up Daisy and placed her in her new home. This time, though, Daisy didn’t squirm in her arms, and Maya thought she almost looked pleased. Maya was satisfied that she thought of such a great idea, but she wasn’t sure what made her think of it right before she was about to put Daisy in her new home.
Maya thanked Jack and went back to the house to find a bottle to nurse Daisy. She rummaged through her mother’s drawers and found a bottle Heidi had used when she was little. In the kitchen, she poured milk into the bottle and then twisted the cap back on.
When she arrived back at the barn, Daisy was still in her new home, her eyes twinkling. Maya got close to her and examined the bottle.
“The milk looks too cold,” Daisy thought. Then again Maya felt doubt. What if Daisy would rather have warm milk? She scurried back to the house to warm up the milk. Back in the kitchen, she lit the stove, then placed the milk on the stove to warm it up. When she was sure it was the perfect temperature, she trekked back to the barn.
This time Daisy sucked on the nipple contently. The warm milk felt nice as it went down her throat. She felt peaceful and at home close to her mother. Maya knew what she liked.
* * *
The next day, Maya came to visit Daisy with a warm bottle of milk. Daisy enjoyed Maya holding the bottle and watching her drink. She tried to stand up to get closer to Maya, but when she fell down again, she remembered how her legs had refused to straighten. Maya gently laid a hand on her back. It felt warm and comforting.
“You’ll have to be patient Daisy,” Maya explained, “If I keep nursing you, I’m hoping you will get stronger and be able to stand.”
Then Daisy understood. Maya was special. Maya was trying to help her. And for some reason, Maya understood her as well.
After two days of constant nursing, Daisy was feeling better. When Maya came to visit her, she wished she could run and play in the fields. Today Maya had something different planned.
“Today, we are going to try to stand,” Maya announced. Maya carefully lifted Daisy out of the box. Gently, she stretched Daisy’s legs until they were loose enough to straighten. She grabbed Daisy by the waist and assisted her in standing up. Daisy slipped and wobbled but finally managed to stand. Maya slowly let go of Daisy and admired the wobbly foal. Tired of standing and keeping her trembling legs straight, she collapsed into Maya’s arms.
Maya giggled, “You sure are tired! Tomorrow, we’ll try again for a longer time and build up your strength, and soon you will be able to run in the fields.”
“Wow, that’s exactly what I wanted before,” Daisy thought, “Maybe she can understand me.”
“I’ve made Daisy so happy,” Maya thought at the same time, “Maybe I can understand her. When I thought she wouldn’t like something, she didn’t.”
Maya continued her daily visits to the barn. Soon Maya became fond of Daisy, as did Daisy with Maya. Flora now trusted Maya to nurse Daisy. “I give her milk every morning, but I know it’s not enough” Flora thought. “It’s a good thing Maya brings her more.”
* * *
One month later when Daisy was rolling around in her hay, she heard a howl outside. Maya watched Daisy scramble over to her mother on her shaky legs. “I wonder what it’s like to be wild,” Daisy wondered, “Do wild animals like it, or is it scary and dangerous?”
“You know,” Maya started, “You should be glad you are safe in the barn. In the wild, there are predators and prey. You must hunt for your own food and defend yourselves. Besides, what would I do without you guys?”
Maya had a point, but Daisy had made up her mind already. “Mama, I think I’m old enough to live in the wild.”
“I’m not sure about that Daisy,” Flora replied, “You’d have to defend yourself and learn to find your own food. It wouldn’t be so easy.”
“Maybe Maya can help,” Daisy suggested. “I hope Maya can help me prepare for the wild.”
“It seems like you have your mind made up,” Maya observed. Daisy nodded. “I would be terribly sorry to see you leave, but I can always teach you the skills to live in the wild. You will need to learn everything, including how to take care of yourself.”
The next day, Maya set up a maze in the cornfield. She would have Daisy try to find the bits of carrots and apples in the maze using her nose. This would teach Daisy how to find her own food. She placed Daisy at the edge of the cornfield and instructed Daisy to find the five pieces of food in under five minutes. Maya told Flora to follow Daisy in case she got lost. In the maze, Daisy sniffed and scurried until she found a piece of food. She chewed slowly, savoring the yummy treats.
“You ought to eat while you find the next piece; otherwise you won’t find them all and get back to Maya in under five minutes,” suggested Flora. So Daisy chewed as she scurried to find the next piece of food. Struggling to catch her breath, she scampered back to Maya with twenty seconds left. Her stomach was full and she was tired from running, but she felt good about her plan to live in the wild. With the help of Maya, she would succeed.
* * *
The next day Maya decided to teach Daisy safety. She would need Jack’s help though. He was quite skilled at animal calls. She set Daisy free in the paddock surrounded by bushes.
“Please, Jack?” Maya pleaded.
“I told you last time was the last time,” Jack replied firmly, but stubborn Maya wasn’t going to let Daisy down.
“But you have the best animal calls! I’ll do all your morning chores for the next week!” That did it. Jack gave in.
When Jack made the bushes rustle, Daisy ran over curious as to what it was. “Good, she’s curious, but one of the tests is what she will do once she hears an animal call,” Maya observed. Jack made a bird call, and Daisy buried farther in the bush. “Alright,” Maya thought, “I know Daisy wants to find out what’s in the bushes. Now, the main test is when she decides to investigate.” Jack hopped to another bush and again made a rustling sound while Daisy was eating. Daisy was chewing after her discovery of a nice big juicy carrot in the bush that the bird call had come from. She followed the sound to the next bush to see if there was another carrot. Then Jack made a howling noise, and Daisy jumped. She waited, and when Jack didn’t howl again, she went back to grazing.
Maya and Daisy were sure that Daisy was ready to live in the wild, but they weren’t ready to say goodbye to each other.
“Maybe she can come with me?” Daisy thought, though she knew it wouldn’t work. Maya was a girl and was meant to live on the farm.
The parting day came and Maya shed tears. Flora nuzzled Daisy but didn’t look too moved. She was used to it. She had had three foals leave her before. But Maya was hurt. She had grown fond of Daisy and had raised her from birth. But she knew she would have to let go. She couldn’t hold onto Daisy forever. That would be selfish.
Still, she couldn’t stand to see Daisy leave. “You can always come back,” Maya whispered in Daisy’s ear. Although she looked sad, Maya knew Daisy was looking forward to living in the wild.
* * *
The days lingered on and Maya kept her daily routine, but a small part of her would always be with Daisy. Maya continued to help her mother perform the house chores. As she churned the milk, she remembered how she had nursed Daisy every day. “That’s how life is though,” Maya reminded herself. But she couldn’t get her mind off of it.
After the chores were finished, Maya and her family took the wagon to town. Katherine had to pick up some fabric for the new dresses she was making for the girls. Maya helped Katherine pick out a nice pink fabric for a sash on the pale green dress she was planning to make for Maya. She picked yellow for Heidi’s purple dress. Then Katherine bought navy linen for the sailor dresses she was making for the girls’ church dresses. She also bought brown wool to make trousers for Jack. Then David drove them all to the blacksmith, Mr. Jones. As they approached the blacksmith, Maya saw a black cloud headed their way. Mr. and Mrs. Jones were moving with their two sons and daughter closer to the university in Iowa. As his apprentice, Mr. Jones wanted Jack to come with them. It was a hard idea to believe, but David said Jack was old enough to start his own life.
So, the family went home to pack. Jack was to leave with the Jones’ the following Monday. Katherine wept day after day. Jack stayed home these last couple days before he was to leave. He was quieter now, Maya observed. He looked bigger and older. Soon, Jack’s room was empty, except for the pale blue bedspread and the oil lamp Katherine had bought him for his 10th birthday. Now that he had packed up his belongings, the room felt empty and lonely. David carried his trunk out to the driveway. Jack stayed close to his mother. Her handkerchief caught the rolling tears that dropped from her face. Jack walked over to Maya and lay his arm around her shoulder. “When I’m gone, it’s your job to take care of the family,” he whispered in her ear. She nodded, unable to speak. She wasn’t thinking about Daisy anymore, she was thinking about her family.
She didn’t need Daisy, but she needed her family. She ran her finger across her cheek. She had a scar from when she fell off the fence trying to walk on it like the neighbors’ cat when she was little. Her family had helped her then. When Heidi was learning how to walk, she almost got run over by a wagon, but David had rushed across the street and swept her up before the wagon continued. They were her family and she would stick close to them forever. She wouldn’t have a house if her father hadn’t built the beautiful log cabin. She wouldn’t have clothes if her mother didn’t make them, and most importantly, if she didn’t have Heidi and Jack, she would be lonely. Suddenly she understood the importance of sticking with her family. Unlike Daisy, she needed them. Each of them had a unique characteristic that Maya had not appreciated enough. She could not ask for a better family. She was theirs and they were hers, and she never wanted to let them go. They each had a hidden beauty beneath those years of youth and experience.